Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

Sermon for 4th Sunday after Epiphany

  1. Epiphany 4.18 “We All Know Who He Is” Mark 1:21-28

It happens now and again in church still today—the unclean spirits cry out, make a ruckus, disturb the proceedings. The ones that shout “Amen! Preach it brother!” usually come out by conversion from Baptist to Lutheran. The ones that just cry and scream and demand treats from Mommy will, sometimes, come out by spanking. Some only come out by prayer and fasting. Now, this happened to Jesus all the time, especially when He came to church! It was like all demon hands on deck! And they cried out and screamed, convulsed, writhed, and carried on. But they all came out for Jesus at His Word, merely by His say-so…

But they rarely come out without complaints or attempts to bargain. Surprisingly, Jesus will sometimes negotiate with the terrorists, let them go into herds of swine and such-like. In this case, in our Gospel this morning, the demon cries, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us!? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” I imagine the guy’s head, who was hosting the demon, spun around 180* or more and that he spoke with a spooky voice (like Linda Blair in The Exorcist) and he probably had that wild look in his eyes that you see often in the villains in scary movies and in the eyes of seminary faculty (in my fairly wide-ranging experience, pretty evenly distributed between liberal and conservative faculty, but usually found in the more extreme versions of each. The horseshoe thing, where the extreme versions of competing ideologies are surprisingly close to one another).

“I know who You are!” the demon cries. And you know what? I say that we all know who He is. I know this runs against the grain. Most people seem to think Jesus’ single greatest challenge is getting the message out about Himself, convincing people to believe that He really is the Son of God and Savior of the World.

This is not the impression that I’ve ever gotten from reading the Gospels (and I’ve read them a whole bunch, just got done with Mark, again, in my daily lectionary reading, as some of you also have). There does not seem to be a single person in the Gospels who encounters Jesus who doesn’t immediately know who He is. In fact, Jesus goes to the greatest lengths (especially in Mark!) to keep the Secret of His identity, and the more He keeps the Secret, the more everyone gets it. In fact, I’d say Jesus keeps His identity Secret so that everyone will know it. And the mission of the Apostles follows this same reverse psychology, if you study the Book of Acts…

See, our Gospel today is absolutely typical. Jesus goes into the synagogue at Capernaum where He’d been staying and where He had some friends and family members. The prophet is without honor in His own country, but not because they don’t recognize Him. Rather it’s precisely because they can’t help but recognize that this is the Son of God that they are offended at Him! Because, how could God’s Son show up right under our noses(!), hidden under the mild-mannered persona of the carpenter Joseph’s son? It’s that juxtaposition of humility and familiarity with deity and power that messes with our heads…

But it is not that it is difficult in any way to recognize Him. Read the Gospel of Mark, if you haven’t just done so, and tell me: is there anyone who saw Jesus, even from a distance, who did not immediately recognize Him as Lord? I can’t think of anyone. They flock to Him and throng Him, even the ones who don’t want to follow Him or have anything to do with Him because they know He has power to heal and save and this draws and repels! The demons all know Him, just as this one testifies, “We know who You are, Jesus of Nazareth—the Holy One of God!” And all the people in the synagogue knew it too. From the first time I read the Gospels seriously in college it struck me: we’ve gotten the wrong idea—thinking that it is difficult to believe that Jesus is God, or that it takes enormous apologetic efforts on the part of the church to convince people of this troublesome truth. No! We all know who He is, the instant we see Him. Like my beloved teacher Hans Frei recalled: as a boy, the first time he seriously looked at a really good picture of Jesus, it hit him: it’s all true. This is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!

So, if everyone knows who He is, what’s the problem? Why is He a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised, and rejected by all? Well, simply put: because of sin. Because this is what our parents and we have been doing with God ever since we ate the apple in the Garden: we rebel against Him. It bothers us that we have a Lord and Master because we all want to be Lord and Master, ourselves. That’s what sin is and does to us. And we cannot free ourselves from its grip.

No, you have to get kind of desperate, have to bottom out, before you can admit you have a problem and need divine help. Your sinful and self-absorbed life has to become unmanageable before seeing the Savior’s a welcome sight! We’re like the people in the synagogue that morning in Capernaum: “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands the unclean spirits and they obey Him!”?

Because, see: we all have unclean spirits, even if ours don’t shout a lot and draw attention to themselves in public, they still don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus—not because they don’t know who He is, but precisely because they do know—and fear! They fear that He will drive them out of us, change us radically, make us new people, in the Image of Christ and for demoniacs, well… this is not an entirely benign procedure, but involves cross and suffering and crying and dying. And our unclean spirits do not want that…(!)

So, we feign not to recognize Him. We skip church, give Christian doctrines on sin, grace, heaven and hell a wide berth. Or, we find a church that doesn’t trade much in that stuff. We pretend to be bored by divinity. We’d rather watch the ball game or go shopping. Because then we wouldn’t have to change our hearts or minds or lives. Then we wouldn’t have to admit we aren’t the centers of the universe around whom it all revolves, or have to get used to the humiliation of bending the knee and worshiping the King who is not us!

So, yes, we all know who He is—Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy One of God, Son of God and Savior of the world. And like St. Augustine, we cry: “Lord, make me holy—but not quite yet…” Because I’m kind of enjoying myself the way I am. Someday, I’ll want to be holy and follow You and change my mind and heart. But next month would really be far, far, better. So, go away Jesus, today. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to have You back…

The demons are more honest.“Leave us alone! We never want to change!” The people in the synagogue are more devious. “Wow! What a puzzling new teaching! Just give me a minute to think on it… is that so bad?” Yes. You are very bad. We all know Him, the moment He encounters us by Word and Sacrament. We know this dying and rising thing is the only way to follow Him, know it’s not an entirely benign procedure. He commands the unclean spirits to depart, which hurts—but oh, then, when they’re gone? The Peace surpassing understanding guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.


21 October 2018

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

8:30 Matins

11:00 Divine Service with Communion

9:45 Sunday School

Adult Bible Class with Pastor

Reformation Sunday – October 28 

Festival service at 8:30 & 11:00 DS w/Communion


Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.